Five Practices of Life-Changing Small Groups

Saturday 14th October, 2006

John Ortberg, teaching pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian, has written an article entitled, No More Mr. Nice Group. In the article, Ortberg uses an illustration about charcoal that is relevant to small groups and Sunday School groups. When a briquette is separated, it cools off. In a similar way, groups that stick together bring energy and enthusiasm to the work God has given them. They fan each other's flames.

Ortberg shares five practices that transform and energize groups: confession, application, accountability, guidance, and encouragement. I found his list interesting since I have written about each of these practices in previous blog entries. I believe it is the combination that is revolutionary. Ortberg reminds us: Remove the masks. Look in the mirror. Stand on the scale. Follow the map. Embrace each other.


Confession. Confession is part of our honesty with each other and with God. I like Ortberg's definition of confession: appropriate disclosure of my brokenness, temptations, sin, and victories for the purpose of healing, forgiveness, and spiritual growth. The word, appropriate, is one that I had not considered. Groups should avoid inappropriate confession for wrong reasons. Appropriate disclosure realizes the need for growth, change, and help. The way the group responds to disclosure can impede future confession and life change.

Application. Application also relates to honesty, but it is honesty about ourselves. It is a realization that we have not arrived. We are not finished growing to be like Jesus. We are not perfect. It is a realization among group members of the need to understand the truth of God's Word, be convicted of that truth, determine to apply it, and actually help one another do it. Ortberg reminds us that small groups are schools of life. Small groups are less about theory and more about practice.

Accountability. Small groups check on each other's progress toward commitments. Accountability deals with honesty about our intentions. It depends on mutual, open relationships. If we are serious about life change, we need each other. We are more likely to accomplish our commitments together than separately.

Guidance. A small group as guide is one whose members have already been where we are going and are able to help us to understand and navigate the journey better than we could on our own. Experiences are shared. Movement forward is coached through appropriate guidance. Guidance denotes leadership, but in the case of a small group, there is an openness to leadership from each other--not just the group leader/facilitator.

Encouragement. A small group is body of cheerleaders who care about us and our progress. They want us to succeed. They want us to grow. They love us and want the best for us. They pat us on the back. They affirm us. They comfort us during difficulty but challenge us to continue forward.

How is your small group doing? On which of the practices does the group need to work? On which practice do you need to work? A revolutionary small group addresses all five practices: Remove the masks. Look in the mirror. Stand on the scale. Follow the map. Embrac e each other. Don't settle for mediocre. Be revolutionary!

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